Podunk Bluegrass Music Festival sometimes gets a bad rap because it's located in a public park in the middle of an urban neighborhood. Our schedule is quite busy this weekend, so we only have time to spend two days at Podunk, but we plan on coming to stay longer next year. We pulled off I-84 around ten o'clock and drove through this particular slice of urban America, counting on our handy GPS to get us the right spot. It was a sunny, clear morning and looked to become hot soon. We drove through a varied neighborhood with a range of ethnic restaurants (Vietnamese, Peruvian, Jamaican, Dunkin') that often suggest a well-mixed interesting place. The signs pointed us to a large park. We walked to the festival grounds past a driving range and entered through the gates of a baseball field. We noticed a swimming pool with a large field behind it filled with campers from tents to large RVs. As we set our chairs in front of the gaily decorated bandstand, I glimpsed a KFC sign within walking distance, but the whole aura of the festival area felt relaxed, pleasant, and festive - just the way a festival ought to be. The crowd was, perhaps, a little more diverse than a typical rural setting might generate, but we saw lots of friendly and the familiar faces we're used to encountering when we attend New England festivals.
Gravity is a band from Sweden just finishing a US tour. Perhaps their European background or their natural inclinations made their set a good deal more eclectic than many good U.S bluegrass bands, but their picking was good and singer Annasofie Lindstrom's strong and pleasant voice managed good sound alikes of a variety of singers, including Janis Joplin. Musically the group has a full sound and the individual instrumentalists were solid.
Carl Shifflet's show seeks to recreate the look and style of bluegrass music as it was performed in the early days of the genre. Performing behind a single mic, this band uses the elaborate choreography bands once employed to give solists better sound. Their set is professional and sheds light on the background of the music when it was performed on radio and in small, local halls. Unfortunately, the way they're packed together makes the Sifflet band quite difficult to photograph.
equal skill and enjoyment. Her swingin' "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" is terrific stuff. Backed by a band of individual standouts, this band is truly superb. Jim Hurst flat picks or finger picks with equal ease. He's truly one of the greats, as is Mark Schatz on bass. Schatz' ham bone and clogging along with his marvelous bass versatility is a great crowd pleaser. Jason Thomas on fiddle, while not as spectacular as the other two sidemen, stands out as a first rate fiddler.
The Infamous Stringdusters closed the Friday show and also offered an instructive and amusing workshop session. Fresh out of the gate, this young band's first CD won a bunch of IBMA awards and catapulted them into the first rank of progressive bluegrass bands. Each of the players has wide experience as Nashville sidemen as well as strong backgrounds in formal instrument study. Chris Pandolfi was the first banjo graduate of the very fine Berklee School of Music in Boston, where Andy Hall also went. Their music always echoes and recognizes bluegrass sounds and rhythms while extending their sound into unique realms. The Infamous Stringdusters are one of those bands that can be recognized within the first half dozen notes they play. Many of these pictures were taken during their workshop, including several in response to the question, "Do you all play different instruments?"